Musical theater research paper topics

Some good research paper topics on musical theater could be to write about the success, influence, controversy or message of various hit Broadway musicals.

"The Book of Mormon" is a great topic idea for your next musical theater research paper. (Credit: Show & Stay)

“The Book of Mormon” is a great topic idea for your next musical theater research paper. (Credit: Show & Stay)

Here are some ideas for the popularity of The Book of Mormon, controversy over Kinky Boots and the contributions of Jewish playwrights and producers to American theater and culture. There is also a directory of research databases on musical theater.

Broad appeal of hit musical The Book of Mormon

What is the appeal of The Book of Mormon? Even Bobby Lopez, who wrote the music, isn’t sure. “When we were working on it, we loved it and we thought it was a cool idea that would appeal to some people very much but we didn’t have this idea that it would be a middle-of-the-road success like it has been,” said Lopez in “‘Book of Mormon,’ ‘Frozen’ music writer Bobby Lopez baffled by success,” by Chris Hewitt posted on, August 18, 2014.

The story of the play involves two naïve but enthusiastic Mormon missionaries who travel to Uganda and find themselves unprepared for the very real problems of Africa. The young missionaries confront their religion’s peculiarities and tenets about black people. The key to the play’s success may lie in its ability to reach all audiences regardless of religious belief. “All along, we didn’t think we were making fun of religion,” said Lopez. “There are some goofy and silly things there, but also some beautiful things.” The Book of Mormon has been a success financially and critically claiming the highest ticket prices on Broadway and winning nine Tony awards in 2011.

Controversy over Kinky Boots

Many times Broadway musicals cause controversy with their subject matter. So it was with the Tony award winning Kinky Boots, the story of a struggling shoe factory that turned to making flamboyant shoes and boots for drag queens to keep itself in business. Although the play promotes diversity and people from different backgrounds working together, conservative groups complained when the 2013 Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade contained drag queens and a musical number from the play, saying that the parade should be “wholesome” entertainment for family viewing.

Commentator Jase Peeples writing in “Conservatives Outraged by Kinky Boots Performance in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade,” posted November 29, 2013, in The Advocate, said Kinky Boots “is infused with a delightful message of acceptance and celebration of diversity. However, the meaning behind the performance the cast of the musical delivered during the parade seemed to be lost on many who left a flurry of furious posts on Macy’s Facebook page.” The protesters’ complaints seem out of place, considering Broadway is not unknown to LGBT issues with such past favorites La Cage Aux Folles, The Producers and Hairspray.

Theatrical liberalism and Jewish contributions

Another good topic for a term paper on musical theater is to discuss the contributions of various religious, ethnic and racial groups to the theater. In the book, Theatrical Liberalism: Jews and Popular Entertainment in America, 2013, author Andrea Most argues that the contributions of first and second generation American Jews created a popular theatrical realm that reflected Judaic values about freedom, performance, action and communal obligation. American liberalism in the twentieth century developed and changed according to the contributions of Jewish playwrights, directors and musicians.

In a review of the book by Paul Buhle in American Jewish History published April 2014, Buhle commented on Most’s description of how theater reflects everyday Jewish life. Buhle said, “Theater pushes the boundaries of lived and imagined experience, she argues, making her case from the highest dramatic forms to the kitsch that captured the largest audiences of the Yiddish theater… The actors in Fiddler on the Roof thus manage to succeed in being themselves! Or, at least, their possible selves, thrown backward a few generations, caricatured but not overwhelmed by the compulsions of dramatic fiction (not to mention singing). Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice made a shorter leap with ease and panache.”

Here are a few databases for research on musical theater:

  • University of Illinois Musical Theatre Library Guide – lists books, scores and librettos, online audiovisual resources, journal articles, reviews, websites and production guides.
  • New York University, Musical Theatre Guide – includes news, books, articles, references, audio/visual clips.
  • The Scherer Library of Musical Theatre at Goodspeed Musicals – located in East Haddam, Connecticut, the library has more than 70,000 items, including a collection of scores, sheet music, scripts, original cast recordings, programs, photographs and theatre memorabilia.

For more information and topic suggestions, check out Questia’s Musical Theater library.

What are some other good topics for a term paper on musical theater? Tell us in the comments.

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